Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 148, Issue 4, pp 859–877 | Cite as

What Drives Substantive Versus Symbolic Implementation of ISO 14001 in a Time of Economic Crisis? Insights from Greek Manufacturing Companies

  • Konstantinos Iatridis
  • Effie Kesidou


This paper analyses the role of external pressures, internal motivations and their interplay, with the intention of identifying whether they drive substantive or instead symbolic implementation of ISO 14001. The context is one of economic crisis. We focus on Greece, where the economic crisis has weakened the country’s institutional environment, and analyse qualitatively new interview data from 45 ISO 14001 certified firms. Our findings show that (a) weak external pressures can lead to a symbolic implementation of ISO 14001, as firms can defend their legitimacy without incurring the costs of internalization in the local market; (b) weak external pressures can lead to substantive implementation of ISO 14001 when firms have strong internal motivations seeking to strategically differentiate from competitors in international markets. Firms internalize ISO 14001 so as to restore their legitimacy and reputation in foreign markets and stimulate their competitiveness; and (c) strong internal motivations pave the way for companies to stimulate their competitiveness by enhancing their efficiency, as some companies might strengthen their position in the local market by implementing ISO 14001 substantively. The contribution of this paper to the literature on ISO 14001 internalization lies in refining existing theory on the importance of internal motivations for the substantive implementation of ISO 14001 in the context of economic crisis. In addition, this paper extends current theory by challenging studies that dismiss the importance of external pressures. We argue that the intensity of external pressures influences the internalization of ISO 14001, but propose that this relationship might not be linear.


ISO 14001 Environmental management Motivations Internalization Economic crisis Greece 



The authors would like to thank the associate editor of the Journal of Business Ethics, Julia Roloff, and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. We are also grateful to Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki for her useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


  1. Allur, E., Heras-Saizarbitoria, I., & Casadesús, M. (2014). Internalization of ISO9001: A longitudinal survey. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 114(6), 872–885. doi: 10.1108/IMDS-01-2014-0013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anton, W. R. Q., Deltas, G., & Khanna, M. (2004). Incentives for environmental self-regulation and implications for environmental performance. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 48(1), 632–654. doi: 10.1016/j.jeem.2003.06.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aravind, D., & Christmann, P. (2007). Substantive versus symbolic implementation of ISO 14001: The role of corporate headquarters. Academy of Management Proceedings Vol. 2007, No. 1, pp. 1–6. Academy of Management.Google Scholar
  4. Aravind, D., & Christmann, P. (2011). Decoupling of standard implementation from certification: Does quality of ISO 14001 implementation affect facilities’ environmental performance? Business Ethics Quarterly, 21(1), 73–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arora, S., & Gangopadhyay, S. (1995). Toward a theoretical model of voluntary overcompliance. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 28(3), 289–309. doi: 10.1016/0167-2681(95)00037-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Banerjee, S. B. (2001). Managerial perceptions of corporate environmentalism: Interpretations from industry and strategic implications for organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 38(4), 489–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bansal, P., & Bogner, W. C. (2002). Deciding on ISO 14001: Economics, institutions, and context. Long Range Planning, 35(3), 269–290. doi: 10.1016/s0024-6301(01)00026-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bansal, P., & Kistruck, G. (2006). Seeing is (not) believing: Managing the impressions of the firm’s commitment to the natural environment. Journal of Business Ethics, 67(2), 165–180. doi: 10.1007/s10551-006-9021-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bansal, P., & Roth, K. (2000). Why companies go green: A model of ecological responsiveness. Academy of Management Journal, 43(4), 717–736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barkley, A. (2002). Organic food growth: Producer profits and corporate farming. Paper presented at the Presentation at the 2002 Risk and Profit Conference, Department of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University, KansasGoogle Scholar
  11. Barla, P. (2007). ISO 14001 certification and environmental performance in Quebec’s pulp and paper industry. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 53(3), 291–306. doi: 10.1016/j.jeem.2006.10.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Barr, S. (2004). Are we all environmentalists now? Rhetoric and reality in environmental action. Geoforum, 35(2), 231–249. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2003.08.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bassett, R. (2010). Iterative. In A. J. Mills, G. Durepos, & E. Wiebe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of case study (Vol. 1, pp. 503–505). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  14. Bogdan, R. B., & Biklin, S. K. (1998). Qualitative research for education: An introduction to theory and methods (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  15. Boiral, O. (2007). Corporate greening through ISO 14001: A rational myth? Organization Science, 18(1), 127–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Boiral, O. (2011). Managing with ISO systems: Lessons from practice. Long Range Planning, 44(3), 197–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Boiral, O. (2012). ISO certificates as organizational degrees? Beyond the rational myths of the certification process. Organization Studies, 33(5–6), 633–654. doi: 10.1177/0170840612443622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Boiral, O., & Gendron, Y. (2011). Sustainable development and certification practices: Lessons learned and prospects. Business Strategy and the Environment, 20(5), 331–347. doi: 10.1002/bse.701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Boiral, O., & Henri, J.-F. (2012). Modelling the impact of ISO 14001 on environmental performance: A comparative approach. Journal of Environmental Management, 99, 84–97. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.01.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bray, J., Johns, N., & Kilburn, D. (2011). An exploratory study into the factors impeding ethical consumption. Journal of Business Ethics, 98(4), 597–608. doi: 10.1007/s10551-010-0640-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Carrington, M., Neville, B., & Whitwell, G. (2010). Why ethical consumers don’t walk their talk: Towards a framework for understanding the gap between the ethical purchase intentions and actual buying behaviour of ethically minded consumers. Journal of Business Ethics, 97(1), 139–158. doi: 10.1007/s10551-010-0501-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Castka, P., & Prajogo, D. (2013). The effect of pressure from secondary stakeholders on the internalization of ISO 14001. Journal of Cleaner Production, 47, 245–252. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.12.034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Christmann, P., & Taylor, G. (2006). Firm self-regulation through international certifiable standards: Determinants of symbolic versus substantive implementation. Journal of International Business Studies, 37(6), 863–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Darnall, N. (2006). Why firms mandate ISO 14001 certification. Business and Society, 45(3), 354–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Darnall, N., & Carmin, J. (2005). Greener and cleaner? The signaling accuracy of U.S. Voluntary environmental programs. Policy Sciences, 38, 71–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Darnall, N., & Edwards, D, Jr. (2006). Predicting the cost of environmental management system adoption: The role of capabilities, resources and ownership structure. Strategic Management Journal, 27(4), 301–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. de Oliveira, O. J., Serra, J. R., & Salgado, M. H. (2010). Does ISO 14001 work in Brazil? Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(18), 1797–1806. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.08.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Delmas, M. A. (2002). The diffusion of environmental management standards in Europe and in the United States: An institutional perspective. Policy Sciences, 35(1), 91–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Deming, E. W. (1982). Out of the crisis. Cambridge MA: MIT Center for Advanced Educational Services.Google Scholar
  31. Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). The handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Diener, E., & Crandall, R. (1978). Ethics in social and behavioral research. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Dogui, K., Boiral, O., & Gendron, Y. (2013). ISO auditing and the construction of trust in auditor independence. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 26(8), 1279–1305. doi: 10.1108/aaaj-03-2013-1264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Dogui, K., Boiral, O., & Heras-Saizarbitoria, I. (2014). Audit fees and auditor independence: The case of ISO 14001 certification. International Journal of Auditing, 18(1), 14–26. doi: 10.1111/ijau.12008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Dunkley, J. (2013). Greece becomes first developed country to be downgraded to emerging-market status. The Independent, 12 June.Google Scholar
  36. European Commission. (2012). Enterprise and industry. SBA fact sheet 2012- Greece. 26 January 2015
  37. European Commission. (2014). Green action plan for SMEs. Enabling SMEs to turn environmental challenges into business opportunities. European Commission, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  38. Fontana, A., & Frey, J. H. (2005). The interview from neutral stance to political involvement. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 695–727). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Gavronski, I., Ferrer, G., & Paiva, E. L. (2008). ISO 14001 certification in Brazil: Motivations and benefits. Journal of Cleaner Production, 16(1), 87–94. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.11.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Georgiadou, M., & Tsiotras, G. (1998). Environmental management systems: A new challenge for Greek industry. The International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, 15(3), 286–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Goedhuys, M., & Sleuwaegen, L. (2013). The impact of international standards certification on the performance of firms in less developed countries. World Development, 47, 87–101. doi: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2013.02.014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. González, P., Sarkis, J., & Adenso-Díaz, B. (2008). Environmental management system certification and its influence on corporate practices. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 28(11), 1021–1041. doi: 10.1108/01443570810910179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Gonzalez-Benito, J., & Gonzalez-Benito, O. (2005). An analysis of the relationship between environmental motivations and ISO 14001 certification. British Journal of Management, 16(2), 133–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Guoyou, Q., Saixing, Z., Xiaodong, L., & Chiming, T. (2012). Role of internalization process in defining the relationship between ISO 14001 certification and corporate environmental performance. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 19(3), 129–140. doi: 10.1002/csr.258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hart, S. L. (1995). A natural-resource-based view of the firm. Academy of Management Review, 20(4), 986–1014.Google Scholar
  46. Healey, M. J., & Rawlinson, M. B. (1994). Interviewing techniques in business and management research. In V. J. Wass & P. E. Wells (Eds.), Principles and practice in business and management research (pp. 123–146). Dartmouth: Aldershot.Google Scholar
  47. Heras-Saizarbitoria, I. (2011). Internalization of ISO9000: An exploratory study. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 111(8), 1214–1237. doi: 10.1108/02635571111170776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Heras-Saizarbitoria, I., Arana, G., & Molina-Azorín, J. F. (2011). Do drivers matter for the benefits of ISO 14001? International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 31(2), 192–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Heras-Saizarbitoria, I., Dogui, K., & Boiral, O. (2013). Shedding light on ISO 14001 certification audits. Journal of Cleaner Production, 51, 88–98. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.01.040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hoffman, A. J. (2001). Linking organizational and field-level analyses: The diffusion of corporate environmental practice. Organization & Environment, 14(2), 133–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. ISO. (2009). Environmental management. The ISO14000 family of international standards. ISO, Geneva.Google Scholar
  52. ISO. (2013). The ISO survey. Geneva: ISO.Google Scholar
  53. Jiang, R. J., & Bansal, P. (2003). Seeing the need for ISO 14001. Journal of Management Studies, 40(4), 1047–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Johnstone, N., & Labonne, J. (2009). Why do manufacturing facilities introduce environmental management systems? Improving and/or signaling performance. Ecological Economics, 68(3), 719–730. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.06.003.Google Scholar
  55. Kassolis, M. G. (2007). The diffusion of environmental management in Greece through rationalist approaches: Driver or product of globalisation? Journal of Cleaner Production, 15(18), 1886–1893. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2007.02.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kesidou, E., & Demirel, P. (2012). On the drivers of eco-innovations: Empirical evidence from the UK. Research Policy, 41(5), 862–870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. King, A., Lenox, M., & Terlaak, A. (2005). The strategic use of decentralized institutions: Exploring certification with the ISO 14001 management standard. Academy of Management Journal, 48(6), 1091–1106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. King, A. A., & Toffel, M. W. (2009). Self-regulatory institutions for solving environmental problems: Perspectives and contributions from the management literature. In M. Delmas & O. Young (Eds.), Governance for the environment. New perspectives (pp. 98–116). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Krugman, P. (2009). Fighting off depression. New York Times, 4 January.Google Scholar
  60. Krugman, P. (2015). What the Eurogroup demands is absurd. Social Europe, 19 February.Google Scholar
  61. Lagodimos, A. G., Chountalas, P. T., & Chatzi, K. (2007). The state of ISO 14001 certification in Greece. Journal of Cleaner Production, 15(18), 1743–1754. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.06.015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Lannelongue, G., Gonzalez-Benito, O., & Gonzalez-Benito, J. (2013). Environmental motivations: The pathway to complete environmental management. Journal of Business Ethics,. doi: 10.1007/s10551-013-1854-4.Google Scholar
  63. Lapavitsas, C. (2014). Syriza can transform the EU from within—if Europe will let it. Guardian, December 29.Google Scholar
  64. Liu, X., Liu, B., Shishime, T., Yu, Q., Bi, J., & Fujitsuka, T. (2010). An empirical study on the driving mechanism of proactive corporate environmental management in China. Journal of Environmental Management, 91(8), 1707–1717. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.03.011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Long, B. S., & Driscoll, C. (2008). Codes of ethics and the pursuit of organizational legitimacy: Theoretical and empirical contributions. Journal of Business Ethics, 77(2), 173–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Melnyk, S. A., Sroufe, R. P., & Calantone, R. (2003). Assessing the impact of environmental management systems on corporate and environmental performance. Journal of Operations Management, 21(3), 329–351. doi: 10.1016/S0272-6963(02)00109-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  68. Nawrocka, D., & Parker, T. (2009). Finding the connection: EMS and environmental performance. Journal of Cleaner Production, 17(6), 601–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Neumayer, E., & Perkins, R. (2005). Uneven geographies of organizational practice: Explaining the cross-national transfer and diffusion of ISO9000. Economic Geography, 81(3), 237–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Nikolaou, I., Evangelinos, K., Emmanouil, D., & Leal, W. (2012). Voluntary versus mandatory EMS implementation: Management awareness in EMS-certified firms. Asia-Pacific Journal of Management Research and Innovation, 8(1), 1–12. doi: 10.1177/2319510x1200800102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Nishitani, K., Kaneko, S., Fujii, H., & Komatsu, S. (2012). Are firms’ voluntary environmental management activities beneficial for the environment and business? An empirical study focusing on Japanese manufacturing firms. Journal of Environmental Management, 105, 121–130. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.03.054.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Perez-Batres, L., Doh, J., Miller, V., & Pisani, M. (2012). Stakeholder pressures as determinants of CSR strategic choice: Why do firms choose symbolic versus substantive self-regulatory codes of conduct? Journal of Business Ethics, 110(2), 157–172. doi: 10.1007/s10551-012-1419-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Porter, M., & Van der Linde, C. (1995). Green and competitive: Ending the stalemate. Harvard Business Review, 73, 120–134.Google Scholar
  74. Potoski, M., & Prakash, A. (2013). Green clubs: Collective action and voluntary environmental programs. Annual Review of Political Science, 16(1), 399–419. doi: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-032211-211224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Prajogo, D., Tang, A. K. Y., & K-h, Lai. (2012). Do firms get what they want from ISO 14001 adoption? An australian perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production, 33, 117–126. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.04.019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Psomas, E. L., Fotopoulos, C. V., & Kafetzopoulos, D. P. (2011). Motives, difficulties and benefits in implementing the ISO 14001 environmental management system. Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, 22(4), 502–521. doi: 10.1108/14777831111136090.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2012). Research methods for business students (6th ed.). Essex: Pearson Education Limited.Google Scholar
  78. Schaefer, A. (2007). Contrasting institutional and performance accounts of environmental management systems: Three case studies in the UK water & sewerage industry. Journal of Management Studies, 44(4), 506–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schumpeter, J. (1964). Business cycles: A theoretical, historial and statistical analysis of the capitalist process. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  80. Seale, C., & Silverman, D. (1997). Ensuring rigour in qualitative research. European Journal of Public Health, 7(4), 379–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Silverman, D. (1993). Interpreting qualitative data methods for analysing talk, text and interaction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  82. Singh, N., Jain, S., & Sharma, P. (2014). Determinants of proactive environmental management practices in Indian firms: An empirical study. Journal of Cleaner Production, 66, 469–478. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.11.055.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Singh, N., Jain, S., & Sharma, P. (2015). Motivations for implementing environmental management practices in Indian industries. Ecological Economics, 109, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.11.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Srivastava, P., & Hopwood, N. (2009). A practical iterative framework for qualitative data analysis International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8(1), 76–84.Google Scholar
  85. van Notten, P. W. F., Sleegers, A. M., & van Asselt, M. B. A. (2005). The future shocks: On discontinuity and scenario development. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 72(2), 175–194. doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2003.12.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wehinger, G. (2014). Smes and the credit crunch: Current financing difficulties, policy measures and a review of literature. OECD Journal, Financial Market Trends, 2013(2), 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Whetten, D. A. (1989). What constitutes a theoretical contribution? Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 490–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Yeung, G., & Mok, V. (2005). What are the impacts of implementing ISOs on the competitiveness of manufacturing industry in China? Journal of World Business, 40(2), 139–157. doi: 10.1016/j.jwb.2005.02.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Yin, H., & Schmeidler, P. J. (2009). Why do standardized ISO 14001 environmental management systems lead to heterogeneous environmental outcomes? Business Strategy and the Environment, 18(7), 469–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Young, W., Hwang, K., McDonald, S., & Oates, C. J. (2010). Sustainable consumption: Green consumer behaviour when purchasing products. Sustainable Development, 18, 20–31.Google Scholar
  91. Zailani, S. H. M., Eltayeb, T. K., Hsu, C.-C., & Tan, K. C. (2012). The impact of external institutional drivers and internal strategy on environmental performance. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 32(6), 721–745. doi: 10.1108/01443571211230943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of ManagementUniversity of BathBathUK
  2. 2.Leeds University Business SchoolUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations